Africa abounds with various forms of child abuses, most arising from prevalent poverty and ignorance. This notwithstanding, the paramount role of the child in the African setting has never been in question. However, the traditional African belief and attitude to children has been successfully fractured by those who have deliberately perverted traditional belief and infused it with a distorted dose of Christianity. In the words of Professor Richard Hoskins (Kings College University, London), a noted expert on the phenomenon of Child Witches, “the phenomenon (of child witches) appears to spring from a new Frankenstein religion, an unholy marriage of perverted Christianity and an ingrained African belief in the spirit world, fuelled by the grinding poverty and desperate need of the people of West and Central African cities”. Professor Hoskins did a lot of work on the phenomenon of “kindoki” the Congolese Lingala language for witchcraft. It is perhaps apt at this stage to state that the concept of child witches could successfully spread like wildfire in Akwa Ibom and Cross River states of Nigeria, no thanks to the unfettered growth of the phenomenon in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The near constant strife and the desperate civil war in the Congo DR which has killed over 4 million people since the late 1990s, orphaned many children, while leaving other families intact but too destitute to feed themselves. This has a created a festering opportunity for shirking family responsibilities and the transference of frustration on innocent children. In the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches, and thereafter, beaten, abused or abandoned. Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them. There are over 50,000 homeless children on the streets of that lawless city, stealing, begging, and selling anything they can find, including themselves. The true number is incalculable but this estimate is certainly conservative.
Many of these abandoned kids are Aids orphans. Others are the children of Congo’s desperate civil war, but a shockingly high proportion of these children are on the streets because of the mushrooming influence of the new revivalist churches who have comfortably carved a commercial niche for themselves in the business of “child kindoki”. Prof Hoskins stated that still more children are not on the streets but are held virtual prisoner in church compounds, apparently awaiting exorcism. In 2006, Congo’s social affairs minister, Bernard Ndjunga, estimated that as much as 50,000 children might just be illegally detained by churches specializing in the removal of kindoki.
It is perhaps natural to state that the situation in the Congo Republic would only be reflected in Angola, what with the country’s 27 years of civil war and social disharmony. The influx of Congolese pastors did not in any way help Angolans to peacefully come to terms with the effects of war and its consequential widespread poverty and hardship. Congolese pastors invaded Angola, bringing with them messages of kindoki and further destabilization of an already fractured society. In 2006, it was officially estimated that one northern Angolan town had over 400 abandoned and abused children stigmatised as witches. Same year, the United Nations Children fund described the number of child witches in Angola as being massive. It was easy for the notion of child witches or kindoki to gain a firm foothold in Angola as in many other African nations, as one of the key African beliefs is that of the potency of witchcraft. It is commonly believed that witches can communicate with the world of the dead or other such supernatural plane, and usurp or “eat” the life force of others, bringing their victims misfortune, illness and death. Adult witches are said to bewitched children by giving them food and then using them to achieve their nefarious goals by bringing misfortunes to their families, causing illnesses, bad lucks and deaths. In retaliation, gory tales abound of the atrocities committed against children in the fight back against child witches. Two cases were particularly significant. A mother blinded her 14-year old daughter with bleach in an attempt to rid her of evil visions, while a father injected battery acid into his 12-year old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch.
One of the notable propagators of kindoki in Congo DR was Prophet Onokoko who as at 1999, had over 230 children on his book, all accused of witchcraft. He employed what he termed “vomit up the devil system” to exorcise children of kindoki. This is the regurgitation of strange objects after these kids have been forcefully made to drink bizarre concoctions. There are other sects involved in these unwholesome practices in Congo, chief amongst whom is the Combat Spirituel Church with its headquarters in Kinshasa and numerous branches all over the country and outside, United Kingdom inclusive.
Combat Spirituel church assumed a striking notoriety in the United Kingdom when the case of Child B came to limelight. Sita Kisanga, a Congolese woman and her accomplices received various jail terms for the torture of an eight-year old girl from East London, known as Child B. Child B was accused of having kindoki. Kisanga subsequently opened up, insisting that it was her North London church – Combat Spirituel – that diagnosed kindoki in Child B and that “torturing” the child was only an execution of the will of God and that of the church. Another popular case was that of the boy called Londres, who was returned from London to Congo because Combat Spirituel church diagnosed kindoki and his mother wanted it removed from him. Prof Hoskins, being fluent in Lingala was able to trace Londres back to the Congo, interviewed him and exposed the horrible details involved in the exorcism of kindoki, despite shameless denials by Londres mother. Evidences have shown that the process of removing kindoki entails so many acts of criminalities on the parts of the pastors. Children have been forced to drink pigeon’s blood, have had their stomachs cut open in “surgical” attempts to physically remove the evil spirits, and so on. Prof Hoskins put it better: “I went from church centre to church centre, seeing evidence of exorcisms. I saw children cut with razors, stamped on, beaten, shouted at and forced to drink pigeons’ blood. Chillingly, I was often given open and unfettered access to these scenes by pastors and practitioners who plainly believed that what they were doing was in the name of God and thus could do no harm to the children”. Mr. Molobo, president of Combat Spirituel in Kinshasa, believes that witchcraft is clearly attested to in the Bible, though insisting that it is completely against the doctrine of the church to harm children in any way or to force them to undergo deliverance ceremonies. The incorrigible belief in witchcraft, especially child witches, was re-affirmed by one official after another of Combat Spirituel, including its founders and global leaders, Mama and Papa Olangi.
Nigeria being a land of opportunities and brimming with opportunists, both real and sacrosanct, did not lag behind in wholeheartedly adopting the concept of kindoki or child witches. It is instructive to note that the end of the civil war in Nigeria, despite its resultant hardship with social disruption involved, did not lead to an upsurge of this phenomenon. It took the ingenuity of an evangelical preacher, who is prolific at producing socially potent and misguided DVDs (to illustrate the concept of the powers of child witches), to unleash the terror of this phenomenon on unsuspecting Nigerians. Our political situation may not be terribly similar to that of Congo DR and Angola, yet similarities abound in the prevalence of an enduring poverty and social deprivations. This is the situation amply exploited by Helen Ukpabio and similar sects like hers who have turned defenseless kids into money-making ventures. The recent film by Mag Gavan titled: Saving African Child Witches, which featured the efforts of Gary Foxcroft and his Stepping Stone Foundation, amply illustrated the extent of the social problems created by Helen Ukpabio and her cronies.
The film by Mag Gavan was very moving – I could not help but cried while watching it. It is unimaginable that we, as human beings, harbour so much wickedness in us. The level of wickedness exhibited by man to fellow man, specifically children in this film, remain quite alarming. Being an emotion-laden film apart, the ugly publicity this film once again brought to our country, Nigeria, is another source of sadness. Every day, events happen to portray the inadequacies of this fumbling giant that is yet to chart its path, not to talk of ascertaining its destiny. The current situation in Akwa-Ibom State and other parts of the Niger Delta remains a shame. For as long as it is allowed to continue, it remains a stigma on Nigeria. For as long as it flourishes without restraint, for so long will it remain a blur on the conscience of the Christian Association of Nigeria and all those who at daggers drawn in defence of the impeccability of modern-day Pentecostalism. For as long as this unchecked instances of child abuse reign in Nigeria, for so long will men and women of good will and clear conscience the world over, continued to confront the problems created by a nation that has allowed its territory to become a nightmare for innocent children and mediocrity to reign unchecked.
Dr Olusegun Fakoya is a physician, teacher, writer and socio-political commentator residing in the UK.